The ghosts of war

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The ghosts of war

Material Information

The ghosts of war
Smithson, Ryan
Physical Description:
1 online resource (237 pages)


Subjects / Keywords:
Soldiers -- United States ( lcsh )
Patriotism ( lcsh )


General Note:
Manuscript rewrite of Ryan Smithson's young-adult memoir, Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
H43-00016 ( USFLDC DOI )
h43.16 ( USFLDC Handle )

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If I donÂ’t do something, who will?


Will there be screaming drill sergeants? Will I be able to handle myself? Is everyone else as nervous as I am? Is this a trick?


When youÂ’re in the shit and all y ou have is a rifle and your own ass, YouÂ’ll turn to God. is my


Probably, jack ass, and thanks for bringing it up. I respectfully decline


Suck it up, IÂ’m not doing this for you.


Gee, thanks.


ItÂ’s one oÂ’clock in the morning and the M916 tractor trailer to which IÂ’m fastening armor is lit by a gi ant working lamp, just like th e ones parked at construction sites back home, parked at Ground Zero, and itÂ’s powered by a generator which is low on gas; IÂ’ll have to fill it up s oon, and (IÂ’m fastening a bolt and a nut). The 916Â’s bumper number is H-1307 and it still needs a box of MR Es and a little oil for the trip. Mi ller said heÂ’ll take care of that tomorrow, and heÂ’s a hard worker -grew up on a dairy farm in Ohio, so heÂ’ll do it. The truckÂ’s okay on water, but its left brake light is cracked a little,


because I wrote that up three days ago after morning chow -runny scrambled eggs like snot but awesome French toast. (The bolt turns, the nut tightens). 1307’s missing an oil dipstick which Sergeant Dodds, fourth squad’ s leader, said was okay as long as you cover the oil check with duct tape. He know s a lot about trucks because he’s a truck driver back home and he once shot a hooker in the face with a fire ext inguisher. See, the way fire extinguishers work is they suck the oxygen from the air, and since fire needs oxygen to burn, by sucking the oxygen you put out the fire, but a fire extinguisher in your face (the bolt tightens) sucks away the o xygen and makes you feel like drowning, and while this truck-stop hooker gasps for air, Ar thur Dodds slams his driver side door shut and drives away, because he’s married, has b een for fifteen years, has two kids, the youngest of whom he nicknamed “Pickleman.” I notice a long, sh iny hair in the dust cloud off to my left, and (right y-tighty, lefty-loosey) I quickl y place that hair on the head of the only female in EQ platoon, SPC Al yssa Doudna. A pebble flie s out from under her boot as she walks away from the group of welders, grinders, and me. The pebble’s from the smoking area and I wish such an attrac tive young woman wouldn’t smoke. (The thin armor gets closer to the door) I spot the oil stain on SPC Josh Roman’s left desert combat boot, because I laughed hy sterically yesterday when he spilled hydraulic oil on himself while he was filling one of the scoop loaders, and now he’s sitting on the wheel well of the front tire as he bolts armor to th e door, and (his bolt tightens) he’s laughing at a story being told by SGT Buckelew, who stands behind me, and he’s being funny and witty because his expanded, sleep deprived mind operates on a level which we’re all addicted to like chocolate covered crack, and he’s telling us about this time in Sunday school when one of the nuns farted. She kept teaching like nothing had happened, and


Wilfred Buckelew III, he held in his laugh for ever before he burst out hysterically, and he was beaten across his hand with a ruler. Roman and I laugh hysterically, because BuckÂ’s face and impression of himself trying to hold in a laugh is the funniest expression weÂ’ve ever seen, and thereÂ’s a maniacal quality in my laugh that I am very proud of (the bolt tightens fully and the ar mor is on the door).




Suck it up. YouÂ’re a soldier and this is war.


Suck it up. This is war weÂ’re talking about, GI. This is your life weÂ’re talking about, GI Joe Schmo. my


Just give us a reason to light you up, you cowardly shits.


This is the town that Achmed built.


These are the people that live in town that Achmed built.


This is the bomb that killed the peopleÂ… These are the guns that accompany the bombÂ…


These are the insurgen ts that fire the gunsÂ… This is the death that drives the insurgentsÂ…


This is the road that harbors the deathÂ…


These are the bullets that fly from the roadÂ…


These are the tanks that avenge the bulletsÂ… This is the ambush t hat deploys the tanksÂ…


We are the soldiers who survive the ambush that deployed the tanks that avenged the bullets that flew from th e road that harbored the death t hat drove the insurgents that fired the guns that accompanied the bomb that ki lled the people that live in the town that Achmed built. my my








IÂ’m upÂ… He sees meÂ… IÂ’m down.

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clack bang clink clink

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How is Irak? Is it hot there? I hope your ok. I think you are brave. I have a dog. He pees on the floor and maks my dad mad. Do you hav a dog? Are you a general or a captin?” Thank you. From, Dylan Thank you.”

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Whoosh, whoosh; BOOM, BOOM. Whoosh; BOOM.

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Whoosh; BOOM. WhatÂ’s wrong with that door? Whoosh; BOOM. Where will the next one land? Whoosh; BOOM.

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Whoosh; BOOM. Whoosh; BOOM. Now you see me, now you

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This isnÂ’t supposed to be scary. This is your parentsÂ’ house. This is safe.

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LetÂ’s see what kind of tricks he can do.

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My name is “Haji”. I belong to Mal habar Azwiki at 666 North Ambush Drive,

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Balad, Iraq.

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Me too, Dad.

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Let’s try and keep that a pet cemetery. I wish it was that simple, Dad. I miss you too, Dad. “I love you.” I love you too, Dad.

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who What is he thinking about?

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IÂ’m upÂ… You see meÂ… IÂ’m down. There are no soldiers here. Only lousy privates.

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If this were real IÂ’d be dead,

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(the bad guys always lose) (gooks in Vietnam flicks), (no soldiers here, only lousy privates) (didnÂ’t I see that in a movie once?). (thatÂ’s why IÂ’m here)

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whoosh boom

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You couldnÂ’t have waited for one more damn humvee?

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Bring it on, Fate!

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On my way to the showers, I pass a guy walking to the tents. “Go to the one all the way down at the end,“ he says. “There’s almost no one there.” “Okay, thanks,” I say. And I start walking down the long length of trailers. As I pass each one, there’s less and less soldiers going in and out of them. When I get to the last one, I walk up the stairs to the trailer’s door. Opening the door , I see that the whol e trailer is empty. There’s four or five shower stalls and four or five toilet stalls. “Alright,” I say. “I got the place to myself.” I have to take a quick whiz, and I notice there are no urinals. Kind of weird, but you never know how equipped the facilities in the army are going to be. Not thinking much of it, I use one of the stalls. Then I take my time and get undressed. I st art one of the showers, and smile to myself in the mirror. Just a few short hours and I’ll be heading home. After a long, hot shower, I get out an d wrap a towel around myself. I lather up and start shaving in one of the five sinks. The door opens, and I look over to see who ruined my privacy.

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It’s a female. She doesn’t look in my direction, just turns and walks for on e of the bathroom stalls. I think. Then I look at the stalls again. There’s no urinals. And then thi ngs start to click. I’m the one in the wrong trailer. There’ s always a female shower trailer among the male trailers. And it’s usually the one on the end. The soldier who gave me the advice wasn’t trying to trick me. When he said the “trailer all the way at the end”, he assumed I would go to the last trailer. I rush to put my shirt and shorts on, and I realize my face is still hal f full of shaving cream. I look at the stall to whic h the female went. Then I look back in the mirror. Back and forth, until I decide I might have enough time. I don’t want only half my face shaved. I run the razor over my chin and neck so fast I cut myself twice. I throw my shirt on, stuff my toiletries back in my little bag, and rush out the door. On my way back to the tent, I start laughing hysterically.

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Kuwait, besides acclimatization and sh ip unloading, is for training. One of the training ranges is where this story takes plac e. We’ve already been to this range for unit training. And now we are back to act as security guards. The range is a fake town. A mock convoy full of apprehensive soldiers drives through every thirty or so minutes and fires at pop up targets. Some of the targets are angry looking people wearing masks and holding weapons. Others are of smiling families. The mock convoys drive through the mock to wn, firing at mock targets, avoiding firing at mock families, and weaving from mo ck IEDs. Then they park in a box formation and hold an AAR. Each convoy comes through three times. Think crawl, walk, run. The first time, crawl phase, that’s a dry run. No rounds are used. The second time, walking, that’s half speed. Blank rounds. The third ti me is full speed, running with live rounds. And then there’s the range watch. On th is half of the range, the range watch is Munoz and I. We sit three hundred meters in our humvee watching the desert be flat. Really, we’re watching for safety reasons. A nd by safety reasons, I mean camels. Plus, sure, if someone gets shot, we have a hand he ld radio to contact range control. But mostly, we’re here for camel watching. LT and Roman are off toward the beginni ng of the range. Two whole days. Guess how many camels. You got it. Not a one . So we take turns between dozing off and watching the route. There’s nothing around for miles but the range and a six foot sign that says “Range 2.” We’re parked right ne xt to the latter. It’s Decemb er, and it’s pretty cold out. During the day, it’s about fifty degrees, and during the night, it gets down around thirty.

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And that damn wind, it never stops. Though, because we sit in a humvee all day, the elements are tolerable. “Oh, man,” says Munoz. “I gotta shit,.” He shifts around in his seat trying to hold it in. For some reason, no one has thought to place a port-a-john at the range watching point. That’s the army for you. Eleven hours of sitting in a hum vee, munching MREs, and no toilet. “Better hold it,” I say. I put my nose back into a book. And he doe s hold it, but there’s six more hours out here. So he gives up. A convoy just drove th rough the mock village and sits three hundred meters to our left holding their AAR. I am th e driver, and we face the desert so that the passenger side of the humvee can’t be seen by the parked convoy. “Alright, I’m going for it,” announces Munoz. “Have a good one,” I say. You always keep toilet paper in a humvee. Golden rule. So Munoz grabs the roll and glances out my window to make sure the co nvoy is still parked. He opens his door and squats on the passenger side. He holds th e edge of his door and uses it to brace himself so he can sit like in a chair. A ll I can see is his head out of the back seat passenger’s window. So I think his boom-boom w ill end up somewhere next to that door. He finishes up and pulls himself back into his seat. “Ahh…” he says, laughing. “I can’t believe you just did that, Sergeant,” I say. “Gotta do what you gotta do,“ he says . “Just watch out on this side. I pushed some dirt over it, so don’t step on the mound.”

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After a few more boring hours of reading, napping, and getting to know Munoz, I have to pee. The wind blows from the left, where another convoy has rolled through, camel free, and is parked in a box formation at the end of the mock town. So I stand at the rear of the humvee with my back to the wi nd so as to avoid spray back. Peeing into the wind is a mistake you only make once. Munoz leans his head out of his window. “Watch out for my shit,” he says. “Alright,” I say, looking down at the small mound of dirt on the ground outside the back passenger seat. I laugh and continue my stream. When I’m done, I shake off and button my pants. I look out over the flat, brown desert. S eeing the curve of the Earth makes me laugh and shake my head. I decide I want a cigarette. Now, I don’t really smoke, but this is a stupidly dull detail. Smoking is something to do besides read and nap. People wonder why soldiers smoke. This is why, because two days of range watching is enough boredom for your whole life. I pull the lighter from my pocket and try to burn the cigarette hanging from my mouth. The wind blows hard and the lighter’s fla me won’t stay up. I turn my back to the wind and try some more. This still doesn’t work. The humvee is built like a sort of pickup truck. The wind rushes right over the back half. So, with my back to the wind, I move to the left, finding cover behind the taller, rear passenger seat. With the cigarette lit, I stand up and gaze at the curve of the brown Earth. I inhale a few times.

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I think. I fuss around like people do when they’re bored, when they’re smoking. I shift weight from one foot to the othe r and twist my feet in the dirt. I think. I slowly lower my stare to my feet. Ther e between them is light, desert brown sand swirled like ice cream with dark, Munoz brown shit. I lift my f eet and look at the bottoms. The treads are packed with sticky, recycled army chow. I look around for a place to wipe it of f. The only thing around besides the humvee is the Range 2 sign. It stands off to my right like a pillar. It’s a pretty large sign supported by 4x4 posts. On one of these is where I rub my shit-covered soles. Munoz sees me, and pokes his head out of his window. Then he looks back at the trampled mound he made. His laugh is hear ty, from the belly, just like his crap. “You stupid ass,” he says. I wipe my boots off the best I can on the Range 2 sign. When we get back to the range control station where we sleep in the humvees, we meet up with LT and Roman. Of course, Munoz is eager to tell the story as I pour water on my boot and scrape the treads with a pointy rock I found.

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It’s after dinner. No one can sleep, so we’re up telling riddles. LT comes in the tent, bags under his eyes, and joins our group. I stand up to meet LT and say, “Sir, a fa rmer has twenty-sick sheep. One dies. How many does he have left?” When you tell someone this riddle, they’ll say twenty-five sheep until they’re blue in the face. Because out loud, when y ou say “twenty sick sheep”, it sounds like “twenty-six sheep.” LT doesn’t know the answer, so he just keeps walking. Now, he’s 6’2” and I’m 5’6”. So as he walks, he has to look down. And since he’s an offi cer, I have to back up. He gets police-interrogation close and st ares me down, grinning the whole time. “Sir, I’m going to need an answer.” I tell him. He keeps walking. “I’m warning you, LT,” I say. When we’re ten feet away from the orig inal group, I feel something brewing down below. It’s just unnecessary for LT to still be towering over me with this shit-eating grin he wearing, so I do something about it. I turn quickly so my butt is facing him. Th en I let out a little fart, a tiny squeaker. Think of a rabbit burping. When I turn back to face him, LT has stopped dead in his tracks. The group explodes in laughter. “Push,” is all LT says. I get down in the front leading rest and start knocking them out. From the group, Zerega says, “You don’t fart on a commi ssioned officer in the US Army!”

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LT says he needs a spot to sit and cont emplate the answer to my riddle. That’s when I get flattened on the wooden floor. “I didn’t say stop,” he says. I make a f eeble attempt to push with him sitting on my back “Recover, Smithson,” he says when he gets off of me. “You know, they put you through a lot of training classes when you b ecome an officer. What to do when one of your soldiers farts on you? Not one of them.” “That’s because the army never saw me coming, sir.” “I can’t even be mad at you, Smithson,” he says. “You were desperate. And that, my friend, was a brilliant solution. You looked like a squid shooting your ink.” The tent at FOB Summerall has plywood floo rs. This is so the puddles of rain and mud that collect outside the tent don’t come inside the tent. But apparently, these tents

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were set up during the dry season, because thereÂ’ s slack in the tentÂ’s roof. So every night when it rains, the edges pool with water until the whole thing is le aking. Obviously, after only one night of sleeping here, we figure out to place our cots in th e center of the tent and leave the edges clear. During the second week of the Samarra mi ssion, the captain comes out to the field with us. He walks in the tent, and you can almo st hear the sigh let loose from everyoneÂ’s mouth. The captain is wearing his tan, army issued gloves. Outside of his office, the captain always wears gloves. His uniform is pressed and sparkling clean. And his body armor and field gear looks like it was ju st pulled from its plastic packaging. It hasnÂ’t started raining yet , and the captain begins sett ing up a cot. Instead of taking a hint or, hereÂ’s a thought, asking so meone, the captain sets his cot up on the outskirts of the thirty others pushed toward the tentÂ’s center. He must assume we all pushed our cots together because we enjoy the smell of one anotherÂ’s feet and morning breath. Though IÂ’m sure he thinks we pushed our cots to the center to give him more living space. While he wrestl es with the cumbersome army cot, no one offers him a hand or bothers to tell him that the edges of the tent drip rainwater all night. The commander is the first one asleep, and its doesnÂ’t start raining until one in the morning. WeÂ’re woken up by the captainÂ’ s lone, key chain flashlight as it dances blue light across the tent. Sticking my head out of sl eeping bag, I see the captain trying to keep the little LEDÂ’s button pushed down with one hand and move hi s stuff with the other. I turn back over to go to sleep. Quietly, head in my sleeping bag, I laugh b ecause its the middle of the night in a

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combat zoneÂ…

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“Somebody has to stay back with him,” says Munoz. “I’ll stay back,” I offer immedi ately. How can I turn this down? “Alright, we’ll bring you guys a plate.,” says Lee. Normally, dentists won’t pull all four wi sdom teeth in one shot, but this is the army and we are in a combat zone. There’s no time for mercy. However, Rhodes doesn’t feel the slightes t ounce of pain. He’s still drugged from whatever they gave him at the dentist. Though “d rugged” may not be the right adjective. Downright, royally stoned seems more appropriate. Rhodes sits in a chair in our common room , the one with the shelf full of candy, in a drunken slumped position. His head is ba ck, jaw open, and the clump of gauze in the back of his mouth makes it di fficult for him to talk. “No tea-bagging Rhodesh,” he says. The whole group of us is laughing when LT walks by. He looks down at Rhodes slumped there in his inebriated state, and smiles. “You feelin’ okay, buddy?“ asks LT. “You arn gonna teabag me are you, shir?” LT laughs and assures Rhodes that no tea bagging of any sort will occur. Then the group head off to chow. Minus two, that is. Rhodes and I sit in the common room, next to the fridge, and

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he tells me all about how he’d fought to st ay awake while the de ntist intravenously knocked him out. “I don think itsch werrkin’,” he had told the dentist. The dentist prepped another needle and gave him a second dose. “Then my head juss fell back and I passhed owt.” Rhodes fakes his head falling back and almost falls out of the chair. This is why he needs a guardian while the rest of us go to lunch. I catch him and lift him back into his seat. “Thanksch,” he mutters. He looks to the platoon’s dry erase board which sits on the wall beside him. It has all the soldiers from EQ liste d by last name. There’s sm all, corresponding boxes for writing in where they are at any gi ven time. It’s for accountability. Rhodes turns in his chair, grabs the mar ker, and begins scribbling things next to the names of those who had just gone to c how. Normally, we write a “D” for DFAC (Dining Facility) when we go to chow. Rhodes just writes “food.” “I need a shmoke” he tells me. “I don’t think you shoul d be smoking,” I say. “Doctor shaid itsh okay ash long ash the gauze esh there,” he informs me. “Maybe Fawldeh hash shome shigarettesh.” “He’s at chow,” I say. Rhodes apparently doesn’t believe me and st umbles out of his chair to prove me wrong. “Be careful,” I tell him. “For wha?”

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He stammers through the nearby doorwa y to the hallway and Folden’s room. Knocking on the door, he asks for Sergeant Folden. “He’s at chow,” I say again. Rhode s opens the door and enters the room. “Surjen Fawldeh?” He asks the empty room. This room is the size of a cubicle and, to anyone except Rhodes, obviously unoccupied. I stand at the doorway chuckling as Rhodes pats down Folden’s bed sheets. “He’sh not shleepin.” I try to remain polite and avoid just laughing at him, but when I see him physically pat down a bed to be sure no one is sleeping in it, I lose it. “Yoush okay, mahn?” he asks me. “I’m fine,” I say. “Let’s go to your room and sit down.” We walk back into the hallway and down to his bay. “Wanna shee the tooths that got pulled?” He asks me. “Sure,” I say. He pulls a small plastic jar from a near by shelf. Inside ar e four bloody teeth. “Look at thish one,” he points. The toot h he refers to has a gnarly, pointed chunk sticking out of its side, not unlike the barb on the edge of a fishhook. “Thatsh gonna hurt when it comesh out.” “Yeah,” I agree. He puts the teeth down and sets up to play me in Battlefield 1942 on his laptop. Sadly, he kicks my ass. After a little while, Jesse Lee comes back with the crowd and gives us our to-go plates. I have a hamburger and onion rings. R hodes gets peaches and some jell-o. He takes the bloody gauze out of his mouth. Then, after more than a few unsuccessful tries,

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he pokes his fork into a peach slice. “Ish thish my lower lip,” he asks us with his finger on his lower lip. We tell him yes, and he places the peach th ere. Tipping his head back, he opens and closes his mouth. Think of a seal trying to swallow a dead fish. I guess he’s hoping gravity will help him out and shimmy the peach into his mouth. Lee and I stand in the doorway watching him. Our laughs start as scratchy grunts in the back of our throats. Again, attempting to save his dignity, we try to keep the laughs from becoming audible. After a couple of jaw flexes, the peach fa lls right into Rhodes’ lap. And his dignity falls with it, because as it sits on his pants, Rhodes keeps opening and closing his mouth, attempting to eat the slippery thing. Lee and I roar with laughter. Rhodes look s at us like a lost puppy. Then down at the peach slice in his lap. Then, as he trie s to poke it with the fork, I say “Sorry, man.” Although, I’m still laughing. So I have to say it a few more times before he actually believes me.

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I need to watch that door, Someone is coming to kill me. I need to watch that door. YouÂ’re acting crazy, YouÂ’re in West Sand Lake,

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New York. People donÂ’t go around just killing one another. Some people donÂ’t even lock their doors. Go back to bed and quit being paranoid, YouÂ’re not in Iraq. No oneÂ’s trying to kill you. Ryan, youÂ’ve been home for over a month. Let it go. SomeoneÂ’s coming to kill me. Get a weapon,

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Is this how it starts? What happens when I wake up the second time? Get a fucking weapon. Is this how it starts?

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Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

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Is that what y ou thought about, Ryan? WerenÂ’t you scared? Is it the same as when Gramps was in?

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my my

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There is something more


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